The Immigrant’s Truth: How Nigeria betrayed its emerging work force.
Grad school was my escape card and I knew I had to play it as soon as I rounded up the national youth service. My options were limited to either get a well-paying job or further my study in a local or an international university. The former was a pipe dream as the average Nigerian graduate entry level jobs available at the time were not as remunerative as advertised. Besides, the demand for roles from companies was less than the rate with which universities churned out their graduates.
“Living alone in a studio flat –that sat atop a struggling jacket potato restaurant– with a self-contained kitchen unit and a dingy communal bathroom while working two jobs and simultaneously attending grad school was not the life I envisioned for myself prior to leaving Nigeria. It was certainly not the kind of abroad they told me about.”
Therefore, as soon as the opportunity came calling, I took it in great stride. I left the country with the mindset of a typical Nigerian. I remember talking to my best friends, with so much excitement; on the day after I arrived in the UK as I screamed ‘I have escaped!!’ over and over on the phone. It was indeed the escape that I wanted. But one I soon came to doubt to be a good one.
I decided to begin this interview series which I have titled #JapaStories (Japa is a Yoruba slang that means “to escape”) to give people the opportunity to tell their immigration stories. In this series, I get together with young Nigerians who have recently migrated – by means of study or work – out of the country and into different continents where they share their dissimilar reasons on why they left Nigeria and experiences on how their “escapes” has fared so far. An underlying mixed feeling for the fatherland can be perceived to be the general undertone of conversation. However, not without being accompanied with interesting takes on their individual journeys.
The first interview in this series begins with a brilliant young man, who for the purpose of this writing has asked to be referred to as W. Currently residing in the USA, W is a supply chain expert in his mid 20s with an impressive portfolio that showcases his circle of influence cutting across major sectors like Tech and Finance. I met W in 2011 and our relationship has since transformed into one guided by mutual respect yet filled with camaraderie and so, it was a great pleasure for me when I reached out to him and he accepted to do this. I found his #JapaStory very refreshing and I have no doubt that you will find it enjoyable, so let’s get into it without wasting time.
Why did you leave Nigeria?
W: My reason for leaving Nigeria was quite similar to yours. I knew that I wanted to go abroad to get an advanced degree after NYSC. In the process, get a well-paying job. I understood that the chances of securing a bigger bag was higher if I left Nigeria. The countries I considered were the USA and Canada. However, I was more inclined towards the US because I believed they had a better Economy, therefore promised greater opportunities. Another reason was, although may seem shallow; because I wanted the opportunity to take nicer pictures; with better scenery. If we are being honest, abroad photos are fire.
Did you have Immigrant relatives before you left and if yes, did it provide more incentive for you to leave?
W: I have a cousin who provided necessary information regarding available school options and the steps needed to be taken. This helped with smooth sailing for me in the beginning. To be honest, the major reason that made me decide to leave was because I just wanted a better life; for myself. I was comfortable back in Nigeria. I had access to a few basic things and I sometimes got some of the things that I wanted. However, I was also very sure that the grass was greener on the other side. The difference is, of course, clear when you consider the earning capacities for different occupations at home and abroad.
How did you fare when you first arrived? Everything you dreamt of or a different reality?
W: When I first arrived, one major thing that fazed me was the large difference in time zone. For someone acclimatized to the Nigerian time, America showed me pepper. I would start to feel sleepy from as early as 4 pm in the afternoon; which was about 10 pm or 11 pm Nigerian time. Because my body was responding to what it knew. It was crazy to think about but this was basic biology. I became used to it; though it took some time. And asides from a tiny bit of culture shock here and there; such as when referring to people older than I am by their first names; I would say I have managed well.
A major contribution to that is because of how I found people and connected with them quickly. Otherwise, it would have been more difficult. On whether it’s been everything I dreamt of. I would say yes, to a reasonable extent. America is indeed the land of opportunities. Back home in Nigeria sometimes; one is able to get some things through the help of someone that knows someone that one knows. That reality is somewhat different here. You can still get things through people, I’m not saying one can’t. However, it is not the norm. Here, you can most likely get whatever you want if you go for it while not knowing anyone. Unlike in Nigeria, no one sits behind a desk; entitled to what should belong to everyone and ask you to kiss their ass before you can get it. That made a major difference for me.
Do you think that leaving Nigeria has been the right move for you?
W: It indeed has. To be honest, I don’t see myself achieving half of what I have; in such a short period if I had stayed back in Nigeria. While I am not exactly living the dream yet; I can proudly say that I have been opportune to mix in international circles; and that my value as an individual has shot up (laughs as he says ‘not a brag’).
When I finished grad school, I had the privilege to work with Fortune 500 companies; such as Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) and Electrical vehicle (EV) manufacturing companies; which I know I probably would not have had access to nor get the chance to apply to these firms; in Nigeria. I am not saying I could not have made it in Nigeria. However, I am confident that the move has been right; and therefore glad I have found the opportunity to do so.
Do you see yourself coming back home soon or it’s goodbye forever?
W: I definitely see myself coming home but not soon. To be honest, there’s still a lot to do and I have only just gotten started with my life. I see Nigeria in the horizon for the future but nothing imminently. I will come for Detty Decembers and definitely, to see my loved ones. However, no plans to stay back except for perhaps in the distant future.